Notes for an Elegy

Notes for an Elegy

The alternative to flying is cowardice,
And what is said against it excuses, excuses;
Its want was always heavy in those men’s bodies
Who foresaw it in some detail; and failing that,
The rest were shown through its skyey heats and eases
In sleep, awoke uncertain whether their waking cry
Had been falling fear only, or love and falling fear.
When the sudden way was shown, its possibility
In terms of the familiar at last shown,
(How absurdly simple the principle after all!)
Any tyrant should have sensed it was controversial:
Instrument of freedom; rights, not Wrights;
Danger should never be given out publicly.
The men could easily have been disposed of,
They and their fragile vehicle. Then the sky
Would perhaps have darkened, earth shaken, nothing more.
In practice the martyrdom has been quiet, statistical,
A fair price. This is what airmen believe.
The transition to battle was smooth from here.
Who resents one bond resents another,
And who has unshouldered earth-restraining hand
Is not likely to hear out more reasonable tyrannies.
The woods where he died were dark even at sunup,
Oak and long-needle pine that had come together
Earlier, and waited for the event at the field’s edge.
At sunset when the sky behind was gay
One had seen the lugubrious shapes of the trees,
Bronze and terrible, but had never known the reason,
Never thought they were waiting for someone in particular.
They took him at night, when they were at their darkest.
How they at last convinced him is not known:
The crafty engine would not fall for their softness,
(Oh, where were you then, six hundred cunning horses?)
In the end it had torn hungrily through the brush
To lie alone in the desired clearing. Nor the wings;
(And you, with your wide silver margin of safety?)
They were for the field, surely, where they so often
Had eased their load to ground. No, the invitation
Must have been sent to the aviator in person:
Perhaps a sly suggestion of carelessness,
A whispered invitation perhaps to death.
He was not badly disfigured compared to some,
But even a little stream of blood where death is
Will whimper across a forest floor,
Run through that whole forest shouting.
Him now unpersoned, warm, and quite informal,
Dead as alive, raise softly sober interns;
Lift gently, God, this wholly airborne one.
Leads out all his life to this violent wood.
Note that he had not fought one public battle,
Met any fascist with his skill, but died
As it were in bed, the waste conspicuous;
This is a costly wreck and costly to happen on:
Praise and humility sound through its siren shrieks,
And dedication follows in car.
The morning came up foolish with pink clouds
To say that God counts ours a cunning time,
Our losses part of an old secret, somehow no loss.
Ok, so I may be a bit biased since the poet is William Meredith, but I would say that this poem manages to tug at the heart with every stanza that it presents. The elegy presented through the poem manages to effectively summarize people’s mindsets at the time all while communicating what the poet wanted to say as well. His repetitive diction serves to amplify the mindsets of the people and add a little irony and sarcasm to the poem as well. Perhaps the most potent part of the poem is that while the first and last stanza shows the conception to death and war of the people, the stanzas in the middle where the story is told bring out a different story altogether.
The story that Meredith writes about the pilot serves as the main Elegy part of the poem. It tells of a story of a pilot who was shot from the sky and crashed into a forest. It tells the story of how he died and how he will never fly again. A common theme that runs throughout the story at this part of the poem is the common theme of nature. Meredith describes the nature in such a way as if nature itself was living along and mourning the death of the pilot. “The woods where he died were dark even at sunup”, infers that perhaps even the sun and the woods did not want to reveal what had happened in the darkness of night. The mention of a little blood and how it will “Run through that whole forest shouting” gives nature a sentient attribute that further adds to the meaning behind mentioning nature with every description of the crashed pilot. Perhaps it is a way to show that even when man advances and fails, nature forever remains the same, and since man is a part of nature, nature suffers along with man.
Another theme that can be noticed throughout the poem is that of underlying sarcasm and irony on Meredith’s part. These can be most easily seen in the first and last stanza and is heightened by the inclusion of the story in the middle. For a poet to mention ”

In practice the martyrdom has been quiet, statistical,  A fair price. This is what airmen believe” in an elegy demonstrates the amount of frustration that Meredith possesses while writing this poem. This poem was written in 1944, a time in the war that can often be seen as a turning point, but with heavy casualties on both sides. It is easy to see how Meredith pokes fun at how men go to be martyrs but at this point, end up being nothing more than statistics, a bunch of numbers on a page.
A last bitter statement by Meredith is made in the closing stanza, and in fact, in the very last line of the poem. He mentions- “Our losses part of an old secret, somehow no loss.” To engage readers thus far with a story of a doomed pilot that evokes sympathy and understanding for the times of war, to end this elegy by saying that ultimately, there has been no loss, manages to bother me to no little extent. It is a contradiction to everything being communicated in the poem save for the first stanza where the poet also expresses his distaste for the way soldiers and their deaths were being treated. But that’s it. William Meredith spent this entire time writing a poem about a crashed pilot and how he died, but concludes saying that it was no loss for the country at all, while certainly, him writing about this proves that it was indeed a loss. An intentional use of irony to demonstrate one final point that he wished to communicate. I believe so.
-Raving Ranter
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Nationalism…..perhaps another slippery slope!

And here we go again…..

To anyone reading this, I would like to make one aspect of my writings very clear- I am inherently an optimist, it’s just that when I talk about issues such as these, it makes sense to point out the dark side to issues rather than only address the good side, as I am sure, we are all well aware of them already.

Nationalism, in my opinion, has always been a good thing. It bolsters pride in one’s country and provides a common ground for citizens to stand in where they can all relate to one another, and to their government. However, the sad reality is, our psychological tendencies dictate that we are more prone to deem something as more of a risk when the severity of the issue is catastrophic, even if that means another issue is bigger in terms of severity, but is acute. And so following this chain of thought, nationalism has been branded with a mark of violence and suffering following a handful of severe cases that threatened the world to no small degree.

Whether I think if nationalism is bad or not is dependent on the form and function upon which it is based. If nationalism inspires the masses to seek better lifestyle and live as exemplary citizens because they want to, and not because they are forced to do so, nationalism, in itself, can be a beautiful thing. All countries seek this feeling in their citizens, all leaders seek to inspire the masses, albeit, there are more than one way to do so. For me when I can ever truly deem nationalism as a hindrance, keeping in mind that I have a limited perspective on any issue that may confront me as there are always two sides to every coin, is when nationalism is forcefully employed. The chain in my perspective progresses like this. A leader is elected, the leader instills fear in the masses by providing a scapegoat, a common enemy, the masses unite under the banner of fear and pledge complete and blind loyalty to the leader. In such cases, nationalism, that is based on Xenophobia, fear and hatred, is anything but what we should look up to, and rather, is a form that we must seek to bury deep within the inaccessible reaches of any human.

And let’s not ever think that nationalism inspired in a ‘good’ way can never go awry. When patriotism overflows and blinds one to perspectives from other cultures and nations, one can only say that it is hardly the right attitude to have. Just as patriotism is essential to the sustenance of a country, cultural diversity and perspectives are essential to the governance of a country.

-Raving Ranter.

War Of Ideas

A question that has come up time and time again during this unit is the way in which we can or should go about confronting fundamentalism and extremism. And to me, the answer comes down to awareness.

When it comes to fundamentalism and extremism, the thing that bothers me the most is the way the media handles it. When first addressed, an issue is blown out of proportion to the point where everyone talks about it vigorously. Afterwards, the backlash begins. Soon, when people realize that the entire story was made out to be more extreme than it was, all of a sudden it becomes a taboo to talk about the topic at all. And the moment words like, “racism” and “intolerance” are brought into the debates, it seems no matter how informed one’s opinion is, if it is in the least bit negative or condescending towards the issue, the debate is already lost. Very seldom have I seen reports that just present the facts and leave it at that.

In this era of information where ratings dictate which channel stays relevant and which one falls, it becomes almost mandatory to manipulate data and information. And that is the very point where the problem lies. By catering to two extremes, the media gets away without providing any real chance for us to form opinions at all. The choices shown are two polarizing ends of the spectrum, a ‘for’ or ‘against’ battle. But the truth is, confronting ideologies is much simpler than that. It only takes a brief reflection on the events and a swift cross-examination to one’s own moral compass, beliefs and ideologies to form an opinion that can provide the way in between fear and rage, and avoidance and extreme ‘tolerance’.

So for me the answer is this. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but that also means that others are entitled to theirs as well. In order to gain a full understanding of such multifaceted issues, discussions must be encouraged. But it has to be a discussion where everyone listens to each other without trying to just condemn each other for their views or come off as condescending to the opposing arguments. It has to be a debate where people listen and not just hear.

-Raving Ranter